Westfield High School senior Da’Vion Tatum sees himself as a regular teen, but the 18-year old student has accomplished much more than what meets the eye. Tatum, recently named the school’s valedictorian, was accepted to 11 top colleges, including all seven of the Ivy League universities he applied to.
Despite the accolades, Tatum considers himself a down-to-earth person who had big dreams as a child. While a third grader at Thompson Elementary, Tatum decided that he would one day become the valedictorian of his high school class.
“When I was younger, I was always focused on making good grades,” Tatum said. “I remember in the first grade, I actually asked my mom for an Algebra 1 book and taught myself algebra. I just wanted to learn more and continue to expand my knowledge.”
Eventually, his mother made the same prediction. “She told me, ‘Be yourself and everything that you do, make sure you do it with a purpose and a reason,’” he says.
By the time he began the sixth grade at Claughton Middle School, Tatum began to excel academically and personally. He began writing a book in the eighth grade, and took advantage of extra time during the pandemic to finalize and publish it in 2020. The book, “Thriving In My Own Lane,” shares Tatum’s personal life experiences from middle to high school. Tatum walks his readers through the pitfalls of succumbing to stereotypes by reminding them to have the courage and mindset necessary to break societal and cultural norms. He says his goal is to one day have the book available in the classrooms of all Spring ISD students.
“I wrote the book because I feel the message can help so many people,” Tatum said. “I want people to read this book and understand the message.”
Westfield High School AP English teacher and girls head track coach Tracey Waller shares a similar sentiment about the book. “Besides relating to teenagers, I also feel his book holds a message for parents as well,” she says. “In a society where parents sometimes try to live vicariously through their children and push them in the direction they would have the child go, Ms. Tatum stood strong and allowed Da’Vion to be who he wanted to be, to choose his own direction. She has raised a respectful and talented young man.”
As a Westfield student, Tatum says the school introduced him to many people who helped him along his journey. “Attending Westfield caused me to look at things differently,” he says. “I saw a lot of need, and it gave me the opportunity as a student to step in and see where I could be of service.”
Westfield Principal David Mason said he’s excited to see what the future holds for Tatum after high school.
“Da’Vion has been a student who has taken the road that’s less traveled and it didn’t just start his senior year,” Mason said. “To see him achieve some of his accomplishments is not something that’s new. He was doing things that others were not well before he came to Westfield. We are just glad to be a part of refining his craft and seeing him one day become a world changer.”
Tatum says he went on to serve as a peer tutor for students, became the president of Westfield’s African American Cultural Awareness Group, and founded the E.P.I.C. (Engaging Peer Instructed Classes) organization, which aims to provide an inclusive and innovative learning environment where students feel comfortable to ask for help from their peers.
“There’s no doubt Da’Vion will do great things,” said Waller. “Westfield is a better place because of him. His attention to progress and the need for change has made many of us here better teachers, better counselors, better principals. I can honestly say that he has touched my mind and, more importantly, he has touched my heart.”
Speaking on his high school experience, Tatum also credits his involvement as a Spring ISD EMERGE Fellow with helping give him the opportunity to attend college. “The EMERGE Program has always been there and has set the foundation for [minority] students in low-socioeconomic standings, and students like myself who want to go to college and may feel that it is out of our reach,” he said.
Tatum has received over $716,000 to date in scholarships from 13 universities and organizations, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, UCLA, Brown, Rice and Princeton. In March, he and his family were invited to tour the Coca-Cola Southwest Beverages Production Facility where he was surprised with a $20,000 scholarship. Out of 99,000 applicants, a total of 150 high school seniors from across the country were given the extremely competitive award – which is less than one-sixth of 1% of applicants.
Looking forward to the fall, Tatum has made the final decision to attend Harvard University, although he admits he never thought he would be accepted into the competitive Ivy League school. “I was so shocked and had to pinch myself,” he says. “Harvard pushes for expanding your knowledge in a wide variety and gives you the curriculum freedom to take the courses that you want. It’s very interdisciplinary. As of now, I’m debating between becoming a doctor or a lawyer – or both – and I know that’s something that Harvard pushes and embraces.”
Tatum reflects over the last year and says he has never felt as motivated for his future as he does now. “I want to become an agent of change,” he says. “I’m going to be that change I want to see in the world. In everything that I do, I know that I’m doing for a greater purpose, to help others.”